Abrogations in the Bible and the Quran – Part 2

This article was published on http://answering-islam.org/Shamoun/consummation2.htm

We anticipate that some Muslims will challenge our explanation and understanding of the biblical data by arguing that this is nothing more than an attempt at damage control. Someone may say that this understanding of the New Testament fulfilling and interpreting the Hebrew Bible in a spiritual manner is simply ad hoc; it is nothing more than the New Testament writers’ way of conveniently coming up with some explanation to account for the vast differences which exist between the Law as given to Moses and with their articulation and application of it. The objector may argue that anyone reading the Hebrew Bible itself would never draw the conclusion that its laws and regulations were to be fulfilled and interpreted in the manner proposed by the New Testament. These laws were intended to be eternal, not reinterpreted or spiritualized.

Man is unable to keep the law

The fact of the matter is that, long before the Lord Jesus and his disciples walked this earth, the Hebrew prophets had already announced that this is what was going to happen when the Messiah arrives. For instance, God already told Moses that Israel will not be able to live the Law and would forsake him for other gods:

“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, the days approach when you must die. Call Joshua and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, that I may commission him.’ And Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tent of meeting. And the LORD appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud. And the pillar of cloud stood over the entrance of the tent. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, “Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?” And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods. Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me AGAINST the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.’ So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel… When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness AGAINST YOU. For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD. How much more after my death!Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness AGAINST THEM. For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.’” Deuteronomy 31:14-21, 24-29

Man is sinful and unrighteous before God

The Hebrew Scriptures, in perfect agreement with the Christian Greek Scriptures, teach that man is sinful by nature and incapable of achieving the righteousness that God requires for eternal life:

“Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.’” Genesis 8:20-21

“If they sin against you–for there is no one who does not sin–and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near,” 1 Kings 8:46

Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like the moth.” Job 4:17-19

“Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. And do you open your eyes on such a one and bring me into judgment with you? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one. Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, Job 14:1-5

What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous? Behold, God puts no trust in his holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in his sight; how much less one who is abominable and corrupt, a man who drinks injustice like water! Job 15:14-16

“How then can man be in the right before God? How can he who is born of woman be pure? Behold, even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure in his eyes; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!” Job 25:4-6

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Psalm 51:5

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” Psalm 51:10-13

The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” Psalm 58:3

“Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” Psalm 86:11

“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Psalm 130:3

“Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” Psalm 143:2

“Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” Proverbs 20:9

“Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins… See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” Ecclesiastes 7:20, 29

“This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” Ecclesiastes 9:3

“And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’” Isaiah 6:5

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and ALL our RIGHTEOUS DEEDS are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” Isaiah 64:6-7

Note that the prophet didn’t say our evil deeds are as a polluted garment, but our righteous deeds are!

“To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it.” Jeremiah 6:10

“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” Jeremiah 13:23

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

Because of man’s needs, God promises a New Covenant

As a result of man’s fallen condition, and because of Israel’s failure to observe God’s laws, the Hebrew Scriptures predict a time when Yahweh would establish a new covenant and a new law, one that would be eternal, one which would be instituted through his servant, the Messiah. As we have already mentioned, it also speaks of God transforming humans, granting them a new heart and a new mind so as to enable them to delight in performing Yahweh’s law.

The promise of a New Covenant is a prominent theme of the Old Testament

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” Isaiah 42:1-9

“Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’ But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.’ And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him– for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength– he says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’ Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: ‘Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.’ Thus says the LORD: ‘In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Appear.” They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.’” Isaiah 49:1-10

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:1-7

“‘And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,’ declares the LORD. ‘And as for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the LORD: ‘My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,’ says the LORD, ‘from this time forth and forevermore.’” Isaiah 59:20-21

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy. For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed.” Isaiah 61:1-9

I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” Jeremiah 24:7

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34

I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” Jeremiah 32:39-41

“In those days and in that time, declares the LORD, the people of Israel and the people of Judah shall come together, weeping as they come, and they shall seek the LORD their God. They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, saying, ‘Come, let us join ourselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten.’” Jeremiah 50:4-5

“For thus says the Lord GOD: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and I give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you. I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord GOD.’” Ezekiel 16:59-63

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:25-27

“I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God. My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.” Ezekiel 37:22-28

The reason why we cited so many passages is to show the readers that this is a major and consistent theme of the OT Scriptures. The foregoing emphatically shows that the OT already announced and anticipated a new law and a new covenant for a people whom God would enable to observe his commands and stipulations. To put it in another way, the Hebrew Bible already announced in advance that God would institute a new order where there would be a new law given, one written in the hearts of a people whom God would transform by his Spirit living in them so as to walk in his ways.

Jesus Christ inaugurates the New Covenant

It is little wonder that the New Testament Scriptures speak of the Lord Jesus inaugurating, instituting, a new covenant, also referred to as the eternal or everlasting covenant:

“And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” Luke 22:20

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21

The NT also says that this covenant is made with people who are made new in Christ, individuals who have received a new heart, mind and spirit, in fulfillment of the OT anticipation:

“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” John 3:3-8

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Peter 1:2-5

“who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;” 1 Peter 1:21-23

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” 1 John 5:1

Hence, the evidence overwhelmingly shows that there is nothing ad hoc about the teaching of the New Testament, but a perfect fulfillment of what was already anticipated and announced in the Hebrew Bible.
Abrogation in the Quran

This anticipated and announced fulfillment is quite unlike the Quran which only refers to abrogation after the fact, implying that Muhammad only mentioned abrogation after the unbelievers started questioning him for changing his mind and contradicting himself:

And when We exchange a verse in the place of another verse and God knows very well what He is sending down — they say, ‘Thou art a mere forger!’ Nay, but the most of them have no knowledge. S. 16:101 Arberry

And for whatever verse We abrogate or cast into oblivion, We bring a better or the like of it; knowest thou not that God is powerful over everything? S. 2:106 Arberry

Renowned Muslim philologist and commentator Al-Zamakhshari stated in reference to Sura 2:106:

(As the occasion of the revelation of this verse) the following is related: The unbelievers had challenged the canceling of verses and said: ‘Look at Muhammad, how he commands his companions to do something, and then forbids it to them and commands the opposite. He says something today and retracts it tomorrow.’


Instead of whatever verse We abrogate (nansakh)some read: whatever verse we allow (or cause) to be abrogated (nunsikh). …

Or cast into oblivion (nansa’ha): Some read: or cause to be cast into oblivion (nunsiha or nunassiha). Others read this as if addressed specifically to the Messenger of God: or when you forget it (tansaha). Still others read: or when you are caused to forget it (tunsaha). ‘Abd Allah (ibn ‘Abbas) read: when we cause you to forget (nunsika) or to abrogate it (nansakkha). And Hudhaifa read: when we abrogate (nansakh) a verse or cause you to forget it (nunsikaha).

To abrogate a verse means that God removes (azala) it by putting another in its place. To cause a verse to be abrogated means that God gives the command that it be abrogated; that is, he commands Gabriel to set forth the verse as abrogated by announcing its cancellation. Deferring a verse means that God sets it aside (with the proclamation) and causes it to disappear without a substitute. To cause a verse to be cast into oblivion means that it no longer is preserved in the heart. The following is the meaning: Every verse is made to vanish whenever the well-being (maslaha) (of the community) requires that it be eliminated – either on the basis of the wording or the virtue of what is right, or on the basis of both these reasons together, either with or without substitute.

We bring a verse which is better for the servants (of God), that is, a verse through which one gains a greater benefit, or one which is equal to it in this respect.

God is powerful over everything: he is able to produce what is good, but also something which is even better or something which is equal in its goodness to the first. (Helmut Gätje, The Qur’an and its Exegesis [Oneworld Publications, Oxford 1996], p. 58; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Clearly, Muhammad’s doctrine of abrogation was nothing more than his attempt of trying to explain away all his contradictions and inconsistencies. Muhammad needed to come up with an explanation for having changed his mind regarding certain issues which resulted in contradictions with what he had previously said about those same things.
Contrasting Biblical fulfillment with Quranic abrogation

In the Bible an old covenant is replaced by a new covenant because a new era has begun. The old one was for a certain people (the Israelites) and for a certain time (until the coming of the Messiah). Already in the old covenant it was announced that a new one would replace it later on, a new covenant for a new time and one that would also include the Gentiles. It is a coherent story. There is a clear reason for the new covenant, because God started a new phase of dealing with humanity. None of the Biblical prophets had to repeatedly abrogate his own words. There is no changing one command here, and another command there. The paradigm, the whole covenant is changed at once.

The Quran is very different. The same alleged prophet gave all the abrogated and the abrogating verses to the same people within a few years, sometimes even abrogating them within a few months. There was no grand plan, but simply confusion, trying to cover up errors and false revelations (satanic verses), changing rules because the original ones turned out to be insufficient (the statements on alcohol) or never worked at all (the law of retaliation). Somebody who could not foresee the consequences of some of his statements and commands designed the Quran, and when realizing that things did not work out as intended, he changed his mind and gave new commands (when the Jews did not join him, he changed the Qibla from Jerusalem to Mecca).


Les forces de l’Islam

A interesting idea: Without the Judeo-Christianisme, Islam will not have a reason to exist.

Abrogations in the Bible and the Qur’an – Part 1

This article was published on http://answering-islam.org/Shamoun/consummation1.htm

It answers to the accusations of abrogationism brought to the Bible by Islamic teachers .

A Comparative Look at Two Different Interpretive Approaches

Part 1

Sam Shamoun

Some Muslims, in order to justify the Quranic doctrine of abrogation, claim that the Holy Bible teaches something similar. They assert that the Holy Bible contains many instructions and practices which have been abrogated, annulled, by later commandments, i.e. Sabbath observance, dietary restrictions etc.

Here are several examples of Muslims who uses this line of reasoning:


Muslims think that they can justify the Quranic problem of abrogation if they can prove that the Holy Bible also contains abrogation.

To begin with, appealing to the Holy Bible does absolutely nothing to support the doctrine of Islamic abrogation for several reasons. First, if abrogation is a logical and/or theological problem then appealing to the Holy Bible doesn’t resolve the dilemma. It would only prove that both the Holy Bible and the Quran are wrong and cannot, therefore, be revelations from God.

Second, the assertion that the Bible containing abrogation provides validation for the Quran also teaching it presupposes that the Bible functions as a criterion determining truth and falsehood. This assumes that the Holy Bible is a trustworthy document which can be used to demonstrate whether the Quran is correct. But if this is the case then the Bible can also serve to falsify the Quran, which it definitely does since the two books are diametrically opposed to each other when it comes to the essentials of faith, i.e. God, Christ, salvation etc. Does this mean that the Muslims who use this approach will reject the Quran for contradicting God’s true Word?

Third, the Bible does not teach abrogation since the Quran defines abrogation as blotting out, as abolishing, previous instructions:

God blots out, and He establishes whatsoever He will; and with Him is the Essence of the Book. S. 13:39 Arberry

God shall abolish and shall confirm [what he pleaseth]. With him is the original of the book. Sale

The Holy Bible, on the other hand, doesn’t blot out or abolish previous revelations but fulfills and consummates them, just as the Lord Jesus taught:

Do not think that I have come to ABOLISH the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to ABOLISH them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18

The Lord Jesus doesn’t abolish the Hebrew Bible, but perfectly fulfills it in his life and teachings. What the Lord Jesus was basically telling the people is that the Hebrew Bible was specifically revealed in such a way so as to find its true meaning and completion in the Messiah’s work and interpretation of it.

For a more thorough and complete exegesis of this passage we highly recommend James Arlandson’s superb article, How Jesus Christ fulfills the Old Testament.

It is a great supplement that helps put things in a clear perspective.

Other passages basically reiterate the above point, indicating that the Hebrew Bible had a specific fulfillment in the Messiah, and that once it was fulfilled, believers were then required to apply the Messiah’s exegesis and completion of it. Basically, believers are required to follow the Law and the Prophets as defined/explained/articulated by the Lord Jesus and his inspired spokespersons:

“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the Gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” Luke 16:16-17

Notice that the progress from the Law and the Prophets toward the new era occurred after John had been sent to announce the Messiah’s advent. The Law and the Prophets are now subsumed and consummated in the Gospel of God’s kingdom as proclaimed in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of the King himself, the Lord Jesus.

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Romans 10:1-4

Christ is the focal point of the Law, the very One who consummates the Law as he brings it to its completion and fulfillment.

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:24

The Law was designed to lead us to Christ, its true fulfillment.

It is clear from the foregoing that the view of the NT writers is that the Hebrew Scriptures were deliberately designed by God to foreshadow Christ and his Church. The OT Scriptures contained shadows, types, analogies, and copies of spiritual realities that awaited the coming of Christ. OT peoples, places, events and things were deliberately designed to be copies of a far greater spiritual reality, with Christ manifesting that reality through his fulfillment of it. The NT Scriptures are basically the record of how Christ unveiled the spiritual reality underlying the OT revelation:

“Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.” Zechariah 3:8-9

“He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. … He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. Luke 24:25-27, 44-45

“Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” Romans 5:14

They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.’” Hebrews 8:5

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without bloodFor when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.’ And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Hebrews 9:1-24

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” Hebrews 10:1

Thus, the NT revelation of the Lord Jesus does not abolish, destroy, or annul the Hebrew Scriptures. It fulfills and completes what these Scriptures were pointing to.

What we are basically saying is that the Hebrew Bible was a shadow of the reality that is Christ. It was never intended to continue in the form in which it was initially revealed, but in the manner by which the Messiah would complete it.

Here we provide several examples of how Christ consummated specific practices in order to bring out their true spiritual meaning. We attempt to show how and in what way the Hebrew Scriptures serve as a shadow of a greater reality.


Old Testament Precedence

God commanded Abraham to have all the male members of his household circumcised on the eighth day:

“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.’” Genesis 17:9-14

The Hebrew Bible provides a hint as to why God prescribed this practice:

“So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” Deuteronomy 10:16

“Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” Deuteronomy 30:6

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds.” Jeremiah 4:4

From the foregoing we see that physical circumcision was a sign, a symbol, of a greater need, of a greater reality. Physical circumcision reminded the Israelites of their need for spiritual circumcision, that they needed their evil hearts and minds to be cut off. God was basically showing his people that they needed a new heart and a new spirit since their evil nature wasn’t allowing them to walk in covenant faithfulness:

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” Ezekiel 18:30-32

Consummation in the New Testament

The New Testament speaks of true believers as being those who have experienced this spiritual circumcision which was already spoken of in the OT:

“So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” Romans 2:26-29

According to the NT, Christ’s death and resurrection inaugurated this new creation, this spiritual circumcision:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,” Colossians 2:11-13

It is through our union with the Lord Jesus that we experience this new birth or creation, where our old sinful nature is cut off and a new one is given in its place:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” Romans 6:3-6

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Since it is directly the result of Christ’s death and resurrection that believers experience this spiritual reality, the command to circumcise on the eighth day becomes all the more astonishing. According to the Scriptures, the Lord Jesus rose on the first day of the week which is the day after the Sabbath:

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back–it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. HE HAS RISEN; HE IS NOT HERE. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Mark 16:1-6

What this means is that Jesus was raised on the eighth day, the very day in which the male Israelites had to be circumcised! Thus, this shows us how this specific OT commandment was deliberately designed to point to Christ’s death and bodily resurrection on the eighth day, since that was to be the inauguration of the first day of a new creation.

Therefore, since the reality has come to then try and return back to the shadow of these things would be futile:

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Galatians 5:1-6

“For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Galatians 6:15

Sabbath Observance

Old Testament Precedence

God had commanded the Israelites to observe a Sabbath day, to make the seventh day one of rest where they abstained from labor. This command made it even into the Ten Commandments, as the fourth one (cf. Exod 20:8). God based this model of rest on the fact that he too had stopped his work of creation on the seventh day since it had been completed:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” Genesis 2:1-3

“You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” Exodus 31:13-17

Consummation in the New Testament

Israel’s Sabbath observance, which was modeled after God’s own Sabbath, was intended to point to a greater spiritual rest. Just as God had rested from his work of creation and entered into an eternal Sabbath, a day which continues for all eternity, believers are to rest from trying to merit their righteousness through observing the Law and trust in Christ’s perfect righteousness. Once a believer truly trusts in the Lord Jesus he enters into God’s own Sabbath whereby he no longer has to merit his justification since he has been given the promise of eternal life:

“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For the Gospel came to usjust as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, ‘As I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest,”’ although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’ And again in this passage he said, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’ Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the Gospel failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever HAS ENTERED GOD’S REST has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:1-11

Again, since the reality has come:

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a SabbathThese are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Colossians 2:16-17

As Christ himself taught:

“And he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.’” Mark 2:27-28

Why would anyone want to return to the copy or shadow of things?

Dietary Laws

Old Testament Precedence

God told Moses that the dietary laws were given in order to distinguish Israel from the nations:

“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.” Leviticus 11:44-47

“You are therefore to make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; and you shall not make yourselves detestable by animal or by bird or by anything that creeps on the ground, which I have separated for you as unclean. Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.” Leviticus 20:25-26

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. You shall not eat any abomination. These are the animals you may eat: …” Deuteronomy 14:1-4a

These restrictions were intended to convey a spiritual truth, that Israel was distinct from the Gentiles by virtue of being God’s covenant people. The Gentiles were unclean due to their paganism and immorality, whereas God made Israel clean by setting them apart from the other nations and gave them commands to live by:

“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?” Deuteronomy 4:7

“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for all time.” Deuteronomy 4:32-40

Consummation in the New Testament

The Apostle Peter, one of the Lord Jesus’ closest disciples, had some very interesting visions regarding clean versus unclean animals which helps provide further illumination on the purpose behind the dietary laws:

“The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened THREE TIMES, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, THREE MEN are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.’ And Peter went down to the men and said, ‘I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?’ And they said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.’ So he invited them in to be his guests. The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man.’ And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, BUT GOD HAS SHOWN ME THAT I SHOULD NOT CALL ANY PERSON COMMON OR UNCLEAN. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.’ And Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.” So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.’ So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’” Acts 10:9-29, 34-35

Peter’s vision where he was told three times to eat unclean animals that had been made clean by God was in reference to the three Gentile men whom the Holy Spirit had sent to the Apostle. In other words, the unclean animals represented the Gentiles whom God was now going to make clean through faith in the Lord Jesus, thereby destroying any distinction between them and Israel:

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands– remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:11-22

What this basically means is that the dietary distinctions were shadows that pointed to a greater reality; this reality being that God had left the Gentiles unclean for a while. That is why, as we have already shown, God instructed Israel to abstain from certain things in order to show them the distinction being made between them and the other nations.

But now that the Messiah had come God was no longer going to keep the Gentiles in their uncleanness. He would now purify them along with Israel through belief and repentance in the name of the Lord Jesus:

“And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you,that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’” Acts 15:7-11

It is little wonder that now that the spiritual reality has come, now that the archetype has arrived, the shadow and copy are no longer binding in their original form and all foods are now declared clean:

“And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, ‘Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’” Mark 7:16-23

“One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.” Romans 14:2-3

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:1-5

Once again, does anyone really want to return to the shadow of things now that the reality has come?


The foregoing examples should make it abundantly clear that the Holy Bible has nothing remotely similar to Islamic abrogation. Its teaching on fulfillment is deeply profound and spiritually rich, and shows what a masterpiece God’s true Word really is, unlike the Quran’s confused teaching of abrogation. Trying to therefore compare the Holy Bible’s teaching on fulfillment/consummation with the Quran’s doctrine of abrogation is like comparing day and night, heaven and earth, apples and oranges. It just doesn’t work.

James Arlandson’s article, Promise and fulfillment in the Bible (in contrast to quranic abrogation), covers similar ground and is highly recommended as supplementary reading.

Important Note: In order to better understand the responsibility given to Jewish believers in Jesus to maintain and uphold specific aspects of the Law of Moses, in contrast to their Gentile brethren, we recommend the following articles:


Are the Thora and the Gospels falsified according the Qur’an?

Here are some interesting demonstrations about the teachings of the Qur’an regarding the authenticity of the Thora and the Gospels.

Many Muslims accuse Thora and the Gospel to be (both!) falsified or corrupted.

Is this accusation a strategy to defend the contradictions of the Qur’an and justify it’s truthfulness? Is the Qur’an contradictory on this subject?

French Version / Version Francais

English Version / Version Anglais

Who gave us the New Testament?

“The history of early Christianity clearly reveals that God used His Church, composed of flesh-and-blood Christians, as active participants in the process of selecting and establishing the New Testament canon, just as He used real people —with feelings, emotions, unique backgrounds and perspectives—to write the twenty-seven separate books.”

Sometimes it is easy to overlook the obvious. Take, for instance, the New Testament. Even though every Christian really knows better, it is easy to forget that the New Testament was not written as one continuous book. Rather, it is a collection of twenty-seven shorter writings which were penned by a variety of authors at differing times and geographical locations and compiled much later. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a list of what books belong in the New Testament. The “canon” of Scripture is, of course, not “scriptural.”

This brings up anther important question which may not be so obvious. Who, then, decided which books should be included in the New Testament canon and which ones left out?

As a Jewish convert to Christianity via evangelical Protestantism, I once refused to acknowledge that the Church had anything to do with compiling the New Testament. I wanted to believe God chose and collected these books without human involvement. The books, I assumed, somehow validated themselves beyond all reasonable doubt, and early Christians merely recognized their obvious scriptural status.

Though there is some degree of truth in this position, it is by itself naive and unbalanced. The history of early Christianity clearly reveals that God used His Church, composed of flesh-and-blood Christians, as active participants in the process of selecting and establishing the New Testament canon, just as He used real people—with feelings, emotions, unique backgrounds and perspectives—to write the twenty-seven separate books.


“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Timothy 3:16). I had always assumed that the “Scripture” spoken of in this passage included both the Old and New Testament. In reality, there was no official “New” Testament when this statement was made. Even the Old Testament was still in the process of formulation, for the Jews did not decide upon a definitive list or canon of Old Testament books until after the rise of Christianity.

As I studied further I discovered that early Christians used a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. * This translation, which was begun in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third century B.C., contained an expanded canon which included a number of the so-called “deutero-canonical” books. Although there was some initial debate over these books, they were eventually received by Christians into the Old Testament canon.

In reaction to the rise of Christianity the Jews narrowed their canons and eventually excluded the deutero-canonical books—although they still regarded them as sacred. The modern Jewish canon was not rigidly fixed until the third century A.D. Interestingly, it is this later version of the Jewish canon of the Old Testament, rather than the canon of early Christianity, which is followed by most of the Protestant Church today.


The history of the New Testament canon and its development is a fascinating subject — and crucial to the understanding of both the Bible and the Church. For over two hundred years a number of books we now take for granted as being part of the New Testament were disputed by the Church before being included. Many other books were considered for inclusion, but eventually excluded. I was shocked when I first discovered that the earliest complete listing of all twenty-seven books of the New Testament was not given until A.D. 367, by Athanasius, a bishop in Egypt.

This means that the first complete listing of New Testament books as we have them today didn’t appear until over 300 years after the death and Resurrection of Christ. Imagine it! If the New Testament were begun at the same time as the U.S. Constitution, we wouldn’t see a final product until the year 2087!

During the first four centuries there was substantial disagreement over which books should be included in the canon of Scripture. The first person we know of who tried to establish a New Testament canon was the second-century heretic, Marcion. He wanted the Church to reject its Jewish heritage, and in so doing dispense with the Old Testament entirely. Marcion’s canon included only one Gospel, which he himself edited, and ten of Paul’s epistles. That’s it!

Many believe that it was partly in reaction to this distorted canon of Marcion that the early Church determined to have a clearly defined canon of its own. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70, the breakup of the Jewish-Christian community of Jerusalem, and the threatened loss of continuity in the oral tradition probably also contributed to the sense of urgency to standardize the list of books Christians could rely on.


The four Gospels were written from thirty to seventy years after Jesus’ death and Resurrection. In the interim, the Church relied on oral tradition—the accounts of eye-witnesses—as well as scattered documents and written tradition. I was very surprised to discover as I first studied the early Church that many “Gospels” besides those of the New Testament canon were circulating in the first and second centuries.

These include the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel according to the Egyptians, and the Gospel according to Peter, just to name a few.

The New Testament itself speaks of the existence of such accounts. Saint Luke’s Gospel begins by saying, “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which are most surely believed among us. . . it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account. . .“ In time, all but four Gospels were excluded from the New Testament canon.

In the early years of Christianity there was even a controversy over which of the four Gospels to use. The Christians of Asia Minor used the Gospel of John rather than the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Based upon the Passion account contained in John, Christians in Asia Minor celebrated Easter on a different day than those in Rome, which resisted the Gospel of John and instead used the other Gospels. The Western Church for a time hesitated to use the Gospel of John because the Gnostic heretics also made use of it in addition to their own “secret Gospels.”

Another controversy arose over the issue of whether there should be separate Gospels or one single composite Gospel account. In the second century, Tatian, who was Justin Martyr’s student, published a single composite “harmonized” Gospel called the Diatessaron. The Syrian Church used this composite Gospel in the second, third, and fourth centuries. This is the very Church to which “the Nazares” (Jewish Christians of Jerusalem) eventually migrated after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 70. The Syrian Church did not accept all four Gospels until the fifth century. They also ignored for a time the three epistles of John, and Second Peter.


My favorite New Testament book, the Epistle to the Hebrews, was clearly excluded in the Western Church in a number of listings of the second, third, and fourth centuries. Prominent among reasons for excluding this book were concerns over its authorship. Primarily due to Augustine and his influence upon certain North African councils, the Epistle to the Hebrews was finally accepted in the West by the end of the fourth century.

On the other hand, the book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse, written by the Apostle John, was not accepted in the Eastern Church for several centuries. Once again, questions concerning authorship of the book were at the source of the controversy. Among Eastern authorities who rejected this book were Dionysius of Alexandria (third century), Eusebius (third century), Cyril of Jerusalem (fourth century), the Council of Laodicea (fourth century), John Chrysostom (fourth century), Theodore of Mopsuesta (fourth century), and Theodoret (fifth century). In addition, the original Syriac and Armenian versions of the New Testament omitted this book. Many Greek New Testament manuscripts written before the ninth century do not contain the Apocalypse, and it is not used in the liturgical cycle of the Eastern Church to this day.

Athanasius supported the inclusion of the Apocalypse, and it is due primarily to his influence that it was eventually received into the New Testament canon in the East. The early Church actually seems to have made an internal compromise on the Apocalypse and Hebrews. The East would have excluded the Apocalypse from the canon, while the West would have done without Hebrews. Simply put, each side agreed to accept the disputed books of the other.


With the passage of time the Church discerned which writings were truly Apostolic and which were not. It was a prolonged struggle taking place over several centuries in which the Church decided what books were her own. As part of the process of discerning, the Church met together in council. These various Church councils met to deal with many varied issues, among which was the canon of Scripture.

These councils met to discern and formally confirm what was already generally accepted within the Church at large. They did not legislate Scripture as much as they set forth what had become self-evident truth and practice within the Churches of God. The councils sought to proclaim the common mind of the Church and reflect the unanimity of faith, practice, and tradition of the local Churches represented.

The Church Councils provide us with specific records in which the Church spoke clearly and in unison as to what constitutes Scripture. Among the many councils that met during the first four centuries, two particularly stand out:

1. The Council of Laodicea, which met in Asia Minor, around A.D. 363. This council stated that only canonical books of the Old and New Testaments should be used in the Church. It forbade reading other books in Church. It enumerated the canonical books of our present Old and New Testaments, with the exception of the Apocalypse of Saint John. This is the first council which clearly listed the canonical books. Its decisions were widely accepted in the Eastern Church.

2. The Third Council of Carthage, which met in North Africa, around A.D. 397.This Council, attended by Augustine, provided a full list of the canonical books of both Old and New Testaments. The 27 books of the present day New Testament were accepted as canonical. It also held that these books should be read in the Church as Divine Scripture to the exclusion of all others. This Council was widely accepted as authoritative in the West.


As I said at the beginning of this article, the history of the New Testament canon and its development is crucial to a proper understanding of both the Bible and the Church. The implications are indeed profound, and they call for some serious heart-searching on the part of all Christians. I would like to conclude on a personal note by showing you exactly how profound these implications can be. For they brought about some radical changes in my life—not only in how I came to approach Scripture and its interpretation, but in how I now relate to Christ’s holy Church in its historical expression.

Soon after my own conversion to Christianity I found myself getting swept up in the tide of Christian sectarianism which is so pervasive in the Protestant world. In fact, I eventually became so sectarian that I came to believe that all Churches were non-biblical. To become a member of any Church was to compromise the Faith. A close friend of mine even wrote a book called The Bible Versus the Churches, in which he argued that the Bible was true, and in conflict with Churches, all of which were false.

For me, Church became “the Bible, God, and me.” My attitude towards others was, “Tell me what you believe and I’ll tell you where you’re wrong!” Even my Christian friends became suspect. And my friend who wrote The Bible Versus the Churches came to believe that the Bible was in conflict with me as well! We parted ways.

This hostility towards Churches fit in well with my being a Jew. I naturally distrusted Churches because I felt they had betrayed the teachings of Christ in having persecuted or passively ignored the persecution of the Jews throughout history. As I became increasingly sectarian, indeed even obnoxious and anti-social, I slowly began to realize that something was seriously wrong with my approach to Christianity. I also realized that many of my Jewish-Christian brethren had also fallen into an elitist and sectarian “super-Christian” mold, believing that they were on a mission to clean up “Gentile Christianity.”

This realization led me to a sincere study of the history of the early Church, where I discovered four centuries of discussion and debate over which books should be included and excluded from the New Testament canon. It soon became clear to me that I was dealing with a larger issue— the issue of Church authority.

Biblical scholarship had given me four criteria to determine if a book was to be included as canonical.

1. It must be written by Apostles or disciples of the Apostles.
2. It must be considered inspired of God.
3. It must be accepted by the Church.
4. It must conform to the oral tradition and rule of faith taught by the Church.

I had no difficulty accepting the first two criteria. I wrestled mightily, however, with the thought that the Church had been given the authority to judge what books composed Scripture. Ultimately, it came down to a single issue. I already believed that God spoke authoritatively through His written Word. Could I now accept the fact that He spoke authoritatively through His Church as well—the very Church which had protected, preserved, and actively produced the Scriptures I held so dear?


For the earliest Christians, God spoke His Word not only to but through His Body, the Church, and it was within His Body, the Church, that the Word was confirmed and established. Without question the Scriptures were looked upon by early Christians as God’s active revelation of Himself to the world. At the same time, the Church was looked upon as the household of God, “having been built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20-21).

There was no organic separation between Bible and Church as we find so often today. The Body without the Word is without message, but the Word without the Body is without foundation. As Paul says in I Timothy 3:15, “The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The Church is the living body of the incarnate Lord. She is an integral part of the Gospel message and it is within the context of the Church that the New Testament was conceived and preserved.

This study was instrumental in my eventual conversion to the Orthodox Faith. If the Church was not just a tangent or a sidelight to the Scripture, but rather an active participant in its development and preservation, then it was time to reconcile my differences and abandon my prejudices. Rather than try to judge the Church by my modern understanding of what the Bible was saying, I needed to come into union with the Church that produced the New Testament, and let her guide me into a proper understanding.

To make a long story short, I am now an Orthodox priest serving in Seattle, Washington, and am striving to witness to the power of God’s Holy Church. To those who, like I once did, stand dogmatically on “Sola Scriptura,” in the process rejecting the Church of God which not only produced the New Testament, but also selected through the guidance of the Holy Spirit those books which compose the New Testament, I would say only this:

Study the history of the early Church and the development of the New Testament canon. Use source documents where possible. (It is amazing how some of the most “conservative” Bible scholars of the evangelical community turn into cynical and rationalistic liberals when discussing Church history.) Examine for yourself what happened to God’s people after the 28th chapter of the book of Acts.

If you examine the data and look with objectivity at what occurred in those early days, I think you will discover what I discovered. The history of God’s Church didn’t stop with the first century. If it had, we would not possess the New Testament books which are so dear to every Christian believer. The phenomena of separating Church and Bible which we see so prevalent in much of today’s Christian world is a modern phenomena. Early Christians made no such artificial distinctions.

Once you have examined this data, I would encourage you to find out more about the historic Church which produced the New Testament, preserved it, and selected those books which would be part of its canon. Every Christian owes it to himself or herself to find out more about this Church and to understand its vital role in proclaiming God’s Word to our own generation.

Fr. A. James Bernstein is the pastor of Saint Paul Orthodox Church in Lynnwood, Washington.


The Use of the Septuagint by the Early Church

What Old Testament text did early Christians use when they prayed the Psalms? Many are surprised to learn that the official text was not the Hebrew or Masoretic text which forms the basis of most modern English translations today. In order to understand why, it is necessary to know something of the background of the text of the Old Testament.

At the time of Christ, the Apostles, and the early Church, Hebrew had long since ceased to be the commonly spoken language, even among the Jews. Although Jesus understood Hebrew, He would have spoken Aramaic – the common language of Palestine – with His disciples. ; Jesus and His disciples were probably familiar, at least to a certain extent, with Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire.

Because Greek was the most widely spoken and read language of the empire at large, a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek had been accomplished, according to tradition, by seventy translators, in the city of Alexandria, during the third century before Christ. The name Septuagint means “according to the seventy.” The Septuagint, or LXX, was without question the most common text of the Scriptures at the time of Jesus and the Apostles. It was the Old Testament of the early Church.

The other text used at that period was the Hebrew text that had been preserved by the rabbis and scribes of Israel. Those who read today about scriptural manuscripts will have undoubtedly run across references made to the “masoretic” texts, which means the texts of the scribes (who were known as “masoretes”).

In the first century, after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and the end of the Jewish priesthood, the authority of the rabbis in Israel became absolute. Before that time the rabbis occupied a position secondary to the priests. The rabbis and scribes distrusted anything that was not written in the traditional Hebrew language, and consequently they rejected the Septuagint text. But for the early Church the Septuagint was always used. When the New Testament quotes the Old, which it frequently does, and when it quotes the Psalms, which it very frequently does, it quotes the Septuagint text exclusively. That is one of the reasons why the Orthodox Church today still continues to use the Septuagint text.

From what Hebrew text was the Septuagint translated? The actual Hebrew manuscripts which formed the basis of this translation, centuries before Christ, have been lost. The Orthodox Church believes that the Hebrew text upon which the Septuagint is based is actually older and more venerable than the Hebrew text of the scribes.
Though both texts, the Masoretic text and the Septuagint, are quite similar in many ways, there are significant differences. These differences can primarily be summed up by saying that the messianic prophecies found throughout the Psalms and the prophetic writings are far more explicit in the Septuagint text than in the Masoretic text.

A careful study of the Psalms reveals how crucially different the Septuagint text is in these messianic portions. Orthodoxy regards the intensification of messianic prophecy that occurred in the Septuagint text to be the inspiration of the Holy Spirit preparing Israel for the coming of the Savior. As the time of the Messiah drew nearer and nearer, the prophecies of His coming became more and more explicit.

For the most part, translators during and after the Reformation, in an attempt to get back to what they thought were the roots of the Old Testament text, chose to use the Hebrew texts of the scribes and rejected the traditional use of the Septuagint. Therefore the Bibles most commonly available in English, whether they be NKJV or RSV or another English translation, are translations of the Hebrew text of the scribes, not translations of the Septuagint. The traditional text of the Orthodox Church, however, whether it be in her singing of the Psalms in worship, or her study of the Old Testament, is still the text of the early Church: the Septuagint.

This Article was written by Fr. A. James Bernstein and published on http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/bible/bernstein_who_gave_nt.htm

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